Fundamentals of Historic Site Interpretation

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.

By Amelia Benstead ‘16

Though I agree with David Larsen’s sentiment that “the role of interpretation is to facilitate connections between the meanings of the resource and the interests of the visitor,” I disagree with the majority of the other claims that he makes. If interpretation is to make an impact on the visitor, it is vital that a connection be forged that both piques the interest of the visitor and draws upon the meaningfulness of the resource being explained. Without that interest or connection, the information that is interpreted becomes nothing but flat, dry facts which fail to make a lasting impact on the visitor.

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Sorting Through the Layers of History

By Amelia Benstead ‘16

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka interns working on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.

The confusion as to what site is truly the actual birthplace of George Washington stems from a variety of circumstances that combined to create a perfect storm of inaccuracy. In some cases, facts have been ignored in order to benefit those involved, conclusions have been drawn too heavily on eyewitness accounts which ultimately proved inaccurate, and investigations have coincided with important events, such as Washington’s 200th birthday, which would have been a controversial time to raise questions about whether the site being commemorated as his birthplace was actually the correct location.

The confusion first stems from the fact that George Washington Parke Custis wanted to place a marker on the site to commemorate where George Washington was born. Since the house had originally burned down, leaving very little evidence there had ever been a house on the site, especially not in what direction it had been pointing, he placed the marker in a location that he more or less guessed at, making conjectures that were unable to be supported by what he could see of the remaining building. From there, many people made additional conjectures based off of where Custis placed the marker. When contradictory information turned up, it was frequently downplayed or ignored because it would have caused too much upheaval at an inopportune time. This was exactly what happened when contradictory information was physically unearthed in an archeological dig just prior to Washington’s 200th birthday. Continue reading “Sorting Through the Layers of History”